Archive for May, 2006

Hello, My Name is Douglas Rushkoff (Guest Blogger)

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

I’m not used to writing about myself. At least not directly.

I mean, sure, everything I write is about me because, like every writer, I’m sharing my own experience and perceptions. There’s no way out. But at least I’ve avoided the trap of getting stuck in that boring my-story-matters trap that’s led to countless badly written memoirs from college writers who either suffered schizophrenia, worked as hookers, took lots of drugs, or found some other compellingly pathological lifestyle to justify a fat book contract and movie option.

The trouble with writing about oneself, professionally, is that it usually amounts to a striptease of one kind or another. And once you’ve shown the goods, the reading public figures you’ve shown pretty much everything you’ve got to offer.

That’s why I’ve always believed I would be more valuable - and contributive - if I wrote about things and people other than myself. Even in interviews, I try to get off the personal story part as quickly as possible, in order to share insights and information that aren’t encumbered by my personality and individual narrative. Still, however deftly I maneuver away, interviewers and audiences like to come back to the personal. And what they’re really asking, deep down, is “what qualifies you to say this?”

And eventually I surrender. No, I don’t list my qualifications in bullet points, but I tell them my story. My path through the mire. And for some reason, knowing where I’ve come from and how I got here makes people more open to listening to what I’ve got to say.

However much I loathe delving into the personal - particularly in a public space - I have to admit to Larry that all this personal narrative does have a purpose. It may be more of a means than an ends, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

So, over the next couple of days, I’ll share something personal. Rather than my life story - which you can find on my website - I’m going to share where I’m actually at. Moment to moment, in the next two days.

I’ve been doing some major housecleaning, personally and professionally, in order to make room for the next phase in my life. I’m saying “no” to stuff for the first time, and I’m even letting a couple of hundred emails slip through the cracks each week. This is uncharacteristic.

So it must be one of those “hinge” periods. And, for Larry, for the hell of it, and for your amusement, I’ll turn this corner in public.

Lazy Ramadi

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Via Paul Rieckhoff (an Iraqi war vet recently featured in SMITH’s “Back Home” series), who’s lately been blogging at the Huffington Post, comes “Lazy Ramadi,” the response of two soldiers currently in Iraq to legendary viral video/SNL skit “Lazy Sunday.”

Women & Guns - A Photo Essay

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

A portfolio by Ian Spanier

Women & Guns began with an assignment to photograph five individuals who carry guns for different reasons, a probation officer, a grandmother/professional cowboy competition shooter, an ex-LA gang member, a bounty hunter and a domestic abuse victim for Marie Claire magazine.

A year later, I made some photographs of a U.S. park ranger for another story, “Women with Dangerous Jobs.” As my research on the subject of women and firearms continued, my curiosity grew. I heard about an annual event called “End of Trail,” held by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), where men and women dressed in full cowboy regalia adopt a 19th century alias and compete in shooting events on a huge field in Corona, CA.

I went to the event hoping to find perhaps one or two additions to my portfolio on this topic and ended up photographing 11 amazing women. This launched my project in earnest — I have made 30 portraits to date. Each woman I have met and photographed has inspired me further. What I have come to find is that this project has less to do with the guns themselves and more to do with documenting an amazing and colorful subculture. I have since met and photographed collegiate shooting champions, ex-police training officers, and hunters, among many others. These women are among all of us, you just may not know it. I hope to publish a collection of these portraits in book form.

The women you see in this portfolio and on my Web site all bear arms for their own reasons; my personal view on guns is neither pro or con, nor relevant here. My intention is simply to offer an introduction to these women-mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters. I spoke with some of the women for hours, others for just a few minutes. Some carry guns to protect themselves or others, some carry to provide for their families, some for sport and some to prolong a way of life. Along the way, the stories behind each woman and each gun revealed something about who she is, and the way she lives.

Boothe is from Farmer’s Branch, TX, a small town north of Dallas, where her family’s neighbors were once the notorious Barrow family of Bonnie & Clyde (Boothe says her uncle still has a Barrow gang gun). She grew up with guns and finds having them around “just plain normal.”

Jen (”Foo” as her friends call her) is a sixth-generation Floridian who was raised with firearms around her whole childhood, and now sleeps with one under her mattress. By age six, her parents made sure she understood that guns are “a tool and a weapon.” At age 20, Jen moved to New York and her father bought her a 22-caliber Taurus, telling her that “no daughter of mine is moving to New York City without a gun for protection.”

Boothe and Foo both work in the film industry in L.A., where they met and realized they had guns in common. They like to go to the LA Gun Range, and sometimes venture out to Joshua Tree to shoot stuffed animals in the desert-just for a little change of pace.

Penny, from Dayton, Ohio, is shown here at the End of Trail, an event organized by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Each spring in Norco, CA, hundreds of men and women dress in period clothing and set up a Western town, complete with old-time reenactments and showdowns, as well as shooting competitions and displays of skill. For a terrific taste of the End of Trail, check out the society’s Web site.

Miki, also photographed at End of Trail, hails from Jackson, WY. I only had two minutes with Miki, before she had to go finish shooting in a competition. It was a fun challenge to quickly pull some character out of a intriguing woman. Realizing I had interrupted her competitive focus, I jokingly said, “I bet you would like to shoot me,” and so she did.

Sharon “Black Heart Belle” Johnson
Sharon, from Gilroy, CA, shares the lens with her beautiful chestnut-colored horse Monte. Sharon’s specialty is shooting balloons with a single-action pistol with one hand and steering her horse with the other. As soon as I saw her, I had to meet her. Like many of the women I photographed that day, I only had a quick session, what I hoped I captured was her amazing, quiet strength.

Renee Wilterding
Renee wears many hats: law enforcement training officer, self-defense instructor, assistant teacher in a biology master’s program, photography student, former police officer, mother of four. She is a hero, and she also is a victim.

While she working for the San Bernadino Police Dept., a call came over the radio about a kidnapping. She was traveling toward the station and spotted the perp. A chase ensued and culminated with a one-on-one battle. Renee was beaten and bloodied and eventually passed out during the brawl. Her partner caught up with them and tackled the man. When the perp then started to get the upper hand on her partner, Renee drew her weapon and placed it on the attacker’s temple. The man finally gave up.

Renee retired early because of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the incident. She told me that the attacker’s father saw the whole incident and later wrote her a note thanking her for “not killing my troubled son.”

Sharon Perry Schmucker
I found this ex-NYPD police lieutenant in a random way: while on a golf course in Florida. I was in a foursome that included former NYPD Police Chief Eddie Dreher, who, upon hearing about my project, said, “I’ve got one for you.” Sharon’s defining gun moment came when she was working on the narcotics beat in East New York City when a drug bust went bad. The perp whom the NYPD was chasing pulled out a semi-automatic Mac 10 and proceeded to shoot at Sharon. But, in a “divine intervention” moment straight out of Pulp Fiction, he missed. Apparently, a bulleted outline of Sharon is still on a metal door somewhere in East NY. Sharon, who splits her time between Queens, NY, and New Hampshire, is an elite member of the NYPD, and was offered the prestigious honor of a commendation to the FBI. Her son, also a narcotics officer, came to the photo shoot and couldn’t boast enough about his mother’s achievements. Although retired, Sharon still carries a gun for protection.

Women Hunters of Hardy, Arkansas
I took this photo of the Women Hunters [] association one early, chilly (15 degrees) Sunday morning in January 2005 in Hardy, AK, a town with a population of 578, one stoplight and one Mickey D’s, which is where they met before their last hunt of the season.
They are a multigenerational group, ranging in age from eight to fiftysomething, and included one pregnant woman among their ranks. The women told me that they not only hunt for sport but also survival. They hunt so they can stock the freezers and feed their families.

Julie Horne, Park Ranger
United States park ranger is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Ranger Julie Horne can be found serving and protecting the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park in Arizona-the only place in North America where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows. Keeping an eye on a plant may seem simple, but keeping an eye on Mexican drug runners crossing the border is far from it.

The Mexico-Arizona border where she works has the standard border set up of a two-lane gate for cars. Beyond that, all that’s keeping the drug runners from crossing the border is about 100 yards of fence that’s already full of car-size holes. They threaten Julie’s life every day. They know when she is home. When she is on duty. When she sleeps. Or goes for a jog. When they make it across, they drive through the park, sometimes dumping garbage-that, in addition to border jumpers, who often collapse and die due to dehydration (it’s a two-day walk to the closest town), pollutes the desert and kills the Organ Pipe Cactus.

A few months before I photographed Julie, her fellow ranger and friend Kris Eggle ( was murdered by a Mexican drug lord. Horne protects herself, and the plants, with an M-16.

Kathy Forster
Kathy is a bird hunter who finds the beauty in guns. She’s skilled in “checkering”-the fine art of adding details to a gun’s barrel, typically hunting rifles. I photographed her with her prize possession, this lovely shotgun, with its twisted metal and fine detailing making it a unique specimen.

Her basement in Portland, OR, is an amazing and chaotic collection of her and her husband’s guns, bullets, and other knickknacks and boxes of who knows what. Although skilled in hunting and training bird dogs, she’s less infatuated with the kill than with the thrill of the outdoors. “I like being in nature, walking with friends, and a faithful dog,” she says.

Eight-Year-Old Hunter
This young girl is a member of the “Women Hunters” group from Arkansas (seen in frame 7). Just before I took the group’s portrait, she had killed her first deer. She’s only eight, though already a serious young girl. She’s here today with her mother, who says in Hardy, AK, hunting is simply a skill a young woman is taught. For her, guns are a matter of tradition-and survival.

My Ex: “I Should Have Stayed Away”

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

Read more reader stories about exes.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is the host of Table Talk,’s community hub.

Even in the most platonic of relationships, it’s common courtesy to throw each other the bone of mild flirtation now and then. A little wink or a nudge to say, “It’s not going to happen in this lifetime, but we’re a male and a female here, and in another reality, we’d be smoking hot.”

I should have stayed away. I should have fled into the arms of the nearest fraternity brother the moment he mentioned his undying devotion to his girlfriend back home. Does anybody ever do that, especially at 19, when they could instead torture themselves breathing the same air as their unattainable object of desire?

I met Patrick the day he bounded into one of my college classes, looking more cheerful than is generally acceptable before 10 a.m. I had a history of falling for troubled artist types; his sunniness was an intoxicating change of pace. We quickly became friends. Friends, in this case, meaning that I drained away a portion of my academic career trying to seduce him, while he treated me with all the ardor of a noogie-wielding big brother.

I might have been able to get past his devastating good looks-the broad shoulders, the big smile, the unjustly beautiful eyes. But the clincher was that he was genuinely sweet-generous, friendly, and profoundly goofy. He never cheated on a test, never cheated on the girlfriend, and steadfastly rebuffed the temptations of all but the mildest vices. Needed somebody to quiz you for an upcoming exam, let you rant about a tyrannical professor, or buy you a consoling Friday night beer? He’d never let you down. Needed an outlet for your wildly overblown lust? You were on your own.

I never doubted for a moment that he enjoyed my company. I also never got the merest signal he entertained even a mildly dirty thought about me either. I’ve had male friends my whole life. Even in the most platonic of relationships, it’s common courtesy to throw each other the bone of mild flirtation now and then. A little wink or a nudge to say, “It’s not going to happen in this lifetime, but we’re a male and a female here, and in another reality, we’d be smoking hot.” I gave him every possible opening. He gave me bupkis.

Eventually, he headed to another university. At an end of the semester party, I watched him from afar as he dazzled the assembled group with amusing banter and talk of his next big plans. It dawned on me then that he was destined for greatness, while I was a working class chump from New Jersey. I must have been delusional to think he’d ever noticed that I’d been throwing myself at him all this time. He was, simply, too good for me.

I considered that this would be a fine time to get roaring drunk and openly declare my worship, but something held me back. Game over. So in one of my first moments of true maturity, I put on a brave smile and gave him a big, chaste kiss on the cheek. “Good luck,” I told him. Then I ran out of the party and didn’t stop running until I got home. I never saw him again.

In time, I got over it. I flirted, I dated, I had flings and real relationships. I even had the good sense to eventually fall in love with a guy who loved me back. And marry him. Years went by without a thought of Patrick. Then a few months ago, I got an email from fellow alumni, about a proposed reunion for a group of us who’d spent a semester abroad together. Patrick hadn’t even been part of the group. Yet when I opened that note, the college memories came rushing on back. And his face was the first thing that popped into my mind. I pulled out an old photo album, and there he was, smiling right at me. He really had been that handsome, that authentically warm and charismatic. What had happened to him, I wondered? What corner of the world was he ruling, in his inevitably benevolent way?

Such questions are what Google was made for.

I typed in his name and instantly got several hits, including one for the company he now works for. I clicked on it, and a moment later, heard the sound of myself gasping. There was a photo. The thick, wavy hair that I once fantasized about burying my face in was all gone. The smile was replaced with a stern, businesslike grimace. The eyes were still piercingly beautiful, but the spark behind them was gone. I couldn’t tell if this was a moment of victory or tragedy. True, any hold he may have ever had over me was loosened the moment I saw that picture. And there’s some bitter comfort knowing that the hottie who rejected you has morphed into a shlub. Yet I mourned the loss of him too, that lovely, happy man who’d disappeared into a scowling drone.

It probably wasn’t really that awful. This was a corporate photo, not Glamour Shots. And I’m not exactly the same miniskirt-wearing Bangles wannabe I once was myself.

Then I read the bio. It got worse. Apparently, he appears frequently on MSNBC, CNN, and the evil suckage of bandwidth that is the onanistic variety hour of a particularly facts-challenged, right-wing blowhard. Prior to assuming his current position, he worked in the office of one of the most morally inept, taxpayer-dollar-wasting, conservative gasbags of the past decade. Oh, and he’d married his college sweetheart.

I’d gone searching for Cary Grant, and found Dick Cheney. Had this buttoned up tight-ass always been lurking within the affable lummox I’d once adored? Or had he been the victim of some soul-scarring accident somewhere around the Clinton era? Would he be different now, if he’d ever once kissed my liberal lips? I felt like I was in my own private version of Star Wars. One day you’re besotted with a handsome Jedi knight. The next thing you know, he’s a mouth breather in a black cape.

I had to know just how bad it was. I clicked around a little longer, reading transcripts of his television appearances. Amazingly, even though he had some seriously dubious affiliations, he didn’t come off extremist or scary, and he definitely didn’t appear to be another cynical obfuscator for the regime. He even had, on more than one occasion, come down quite firmly, ass-kickingly on the team of righteousness. He was just a guy whose ideals had put him in a particular place, very different from my own. He hadn’t gone completely over to the dark side. He just wasn’t my Prince Charming anymore either.

I could look at him now and see him as he was, an imperfect middle-aged man with a receding hairline, still living, as he had all those years ago, according to his own firm ethical code. If he so desires, he will no doubt one day bowl over the red states as easily as he once did me. I believe in his life he’s made some questionable decisions. He was right about one thing, though. We really never were cut out for each other.

As I caught up on his life today and the things he’s accomplished, it was clear that whatever his choices and however unflatteringly he may have aged, he’s undeniably a smart man. Smarter than I’d given him credit for. Though I’d always believed he was completely clueless about my feelings, he’d probably known all along exactly what they were. This was, after all, a time in my life when I had all the subtlety of a horny, frequently inebriated college student. He’d just been decent enough to let me think he’d remember me as his pal, not the love-struck obsessive I really was. Decent enough not to use my infatuation to feed his ego. It was I who’d been the clueless one. No matter what he’s done in the intervening years, he really was a good guy. But he hadn’t, it’d turned out, been too good for me.

no mommy wars on mother’s day…

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

As founding mama of SMITH and mom to a NYC two-year-old who knows the names of more dinosaurs than I do, I couldn’t miss a post on Mother’s Day, even though trying to squeeze it between The Wiggles, a few emails, calls to my mothers and waiting for the “surprise breakfast” that hasn’t yet come, isn’t ideal for creativity.

Or perhaps it is. At least, it’s standard fare for a working mom who would like to declare today a truce in the Mommy Wars being waged. I was late to the book-reading party—who has time?—but grabbed time on a couple of cross-country work trips to find the essays on mommyhood lives worth living to be both inspirational, and heart-breaking.

Happy Mother’s Day—and go find a mom or a mom blog out there—to appreciate, confound or thank.

Your Ad Here

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

The New York Times reports on advertising’s worst nightmare/huge opportunity: user-created advertising. Here’s a piece:

User-generated content, best known for fueling the popularity of Web sites like YouTube and MySpace, is rapidly taking hold in advertising. Dozens of entries were submitted for the Current contest, and Mr. Ibele’s commercial will run for one to two months on the network. In the coming weeks, more user-generated ads for companies like L’Oréal and Toyota will follow the Sony commercial.

“User-generated content is sort of the word of the day,” said Anne Zehren, the president of sales and marketing for Current TV, which was started last August. “And I think smart marketers will start harnessing that.”

Early SMITH readers will recall we put out a call for readers to create ads for their favorite brands and products. We received a few responses (some we’re still trying to make sense of) and our offer still stands right here.

Chasing Ghosts—Excerpt!

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

rieckhoff_party_1.jpgSMITH was recently at NYC’s Canal Room to celebrate the launch of the Amazon-rising Memoir, Chasing Ghosts, by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder and director Paul Rieckhoff (to which proceeds of the evening will flow). The night was packed and featured stellar performances by the Laura Thomas Band, State Radio, and some cheeky emceeing by Iraq vets Todd Bowers and Herold Noel, the subject of Dan Lohaus’ riveting doc When I Came Home, which just took the prize for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. While Rieckhoff never had to live out of his car, as Noel was forced to do after his tour, he did face a number of hardships after rotating back home from Iraq in 2004. Some of those are detailed here in this exclusive excerpt from Chasing Ghosts. Read it here. (more…)

Flow Like The Wind, Sorry To All The People I Hurt

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

That’s all that’s in the “About Me” section of Mike Kennedy’s MySpace profile. Kennedy’s better known as the 18-year-old who shot and killed a police officer in Fairfax County, Virginia Monday, wounding two other officers before being killed himself.

There are hundreds of comments on the page now, from Kennedy’s various friends, wondering why, asking themselves whether they could have done more, missing their friend. I’ve made this point before, but these kind of things really are in their own way the kind of storytelling personal media has made possible. A decade ago, Mike Kennedy might have been all but anonymous, an enigmatic figure who emerged for a gunbattle with police then left, leaving everyone else wondering why. In his MySpace profile, we have some answers — not necessarily to the question of why he did what he did (and is that ever truly answerable?) but at least to who he was.

Are You Ready for Shooting War?

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006


We’re less than a week away from SMITH’s launch of Shooting War, the near-future story of v-blogging journalist Jimmy Burns, and SMITH’s first foray into the graphic novel. Creators Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman give the first interview about the project to the comics news supersite, Newsarama, though clearly someone leaked the story to New York mag. We never approved the New York piece—this stinks like the work of some nefarious publicist.

Story of a Fat Man Walking

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

In about an hour, Steve Vaught will cross the George Washington Bridge into New York City. Nothing out of the ordinary about that, except Vaught walked here — from San Diego.

Vaught, who calls himself “The Fat Man Walking,” began his walk weighing over 400 pounds. In the year it’s taken him, he’s lost over 100 of those. A former Marine, and in his words, a “lanky teenager,” Vaught gained weight while dealing with depression stemming from an accident in the early 90’s in which he killed two elderly pedestrians.

He’s been tracking the whole thing on his site, which you can see here.

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